You could own 4,096 bits of space history when computer chip goes up for auction


This computer chip is from the first computer ever used in a spacecraft.
This computer chip is from the first computer ever used in a spacecraft.
Photo: Heritage Auctions

A memory chip that originated from the first digital computer on a manned space flight will be up for auction next month in Dallas. For those calling in a bid, the smartphone in their hand has more than 250 million times the capacity of this chip.

The onboard computer for Gemini 3 aided astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young with several phases of their March 1965 mission, including prelaunch and re-entry. The 4.25-inch chip, a Random Access Non-Destruction Readout Memory Plane contains 4,096 bits of information, equal to about half of a K.

“Yet look what it accomplished,” said Michale Riley, senior historian and cataloger at Heritage Auctions, which is featuring the chip in an auction of other mementos from the history of space exploration. “This little piece is responsible, in its own way, for ushering in the Space Age.”

The Apollo moon missions three years later utilized a much more advanced computer with a whopping 64Kbyte of memory. Still, this is less storage than the average USB thumb drive of today.

The current bid on the chip is at $1,300 and the auction will conclude Nov. 6.

The Gemini missions, which helped develop docking and rendezvous exercises that were used by Apollo crews going to the moon, used a computer designed by IBM that weighed 59 pounds and was about the size of a hat box, according to the Heritage Auctions website.